Another bedroom, bigger windows, a private earth closet and a green space – moving up in the world in Victorian Sudbury

August 5th, 1859, would have been a proud day for the Freemen as it was the day that the Town Council held its Quarterly meeting; fourteen candidates were sworn in as new Freemen of Sudbury. Amongst these was a silkweaver, William Parish, son of William, (deceased), cordwainer. Records held by the Sudbury Freemen’s Society show that the Parish family had been Sudbury Freemen since at least the late 17th century.

William and his family, (Eliza, his wife, and sons Robert, Henry, Fred and Arthur) had recently moved into a newly-built house in Wigan End, Sudbury. Their new address was Delhi Terrace – a row of twenty eight weavers’ cottages with large windows and good ventilation.

Delhi Terrace was not strictly in Wigan End and was really on the road leading to Chilton. Wigan End, as can be seen from an 1837 map of Sudbury, was a short road from the town centre which covered only a small part of East Street today.

1837 map of Sudbury, image from the Town Archives

Three sides of Wigan End were surrounded by farm land; fields with names such as Wiggins End Piece, Newmans Piece, Windmill Hill and Home Field were just a few minutes walk from North Street. Thomas Jones, wealthy farmer and maltster, was the owner of much of the land around Wigan End. When he died in 1856, his estate (Home Farm) was put up for sale. Local builder Samuel Webb acquired much of the land and, with his partner Joseph Garnham, set about building 20 cottages on what had been farmland. Another builder, Thomas Davey from Halstead, was also involved in the expansion of the Town as far as the track leading up Windmill Hill, (now Constitution Hill).

Joseph Garnham was keen to encourage newcomers to the town and the 1861 census does indeed prove that the people who moved to Delhi Terrace came from many different places such as: Coggeshall, Glemsford, Higham, Ipswich and more distant locations such as Kent, Norfolk and London. The houses were built as weavers’ cottages so many of the inhabitants were silkweavers. William Parish and his wife were also silkweavers but, unlike most of the neighbours, they had both been born in Sudbury.

Church Street, Sudbury 1815. Image from the Town Archive.

The Parish family were living in Church Street, Sudbury in the 1851 census and conditions for a handloom weaver in the cramped, poorly-lit medieval tenements must have been difficult so the opportunity to move to a modern silkweavers’ cottage on the edge of town would have been a godsend.

The houses in Delhi Terrace were built in 1858 – just before handloom weaving went into decline. The Terrace was regarded as very modern in Sudbury and information about the buildings during this period has survived because a local doctor, John Cox Lynch, kept a careful record of causes of deaths and regularly submitted information to the local paper: ‘The Suffolk and Essex Free Press’. During the 1860’s, for example, he tried to raise awareness of the link between excess deaths in the Town and wells that were located close to cesspools.

Whilst the state of Sudbury had been notorious for dirt in the past, the Paving and Lighting Commissioners did their best to make improvements but tended to focus on widening roads rather than on providing clean water and drains. Influential councillors such as William Brock insisted the open cesspools were the healthiest and cleanest in the country. He denied that there was any disease in the Town – except one that he, (and everyone else), was suffering from and that was poverty. If the landlords piped water into the houses, they would never get the expense back from the rents they charged.

Thus it was that Delhi Terrace was built without any indoor drainage or piped water supply. This oversight was to have tragic consequences for the family of William Parish. When the houses were built in 1858, Joshua Garnham insisted that a ditch running alongside the road should be converted into a barrel drain so it could carry away any surface water or ‘kitchen slops’. After much campaigning on his part, the Paving and Lighting Commissioners agreed to his request despite considerable opposition from William Brock who continued to plead: “Don’t run the Town to any more expense gentlemen, for we are full of poverty.”

The Parish family were no doubt delighted with their new accommodation as their terraced cottage had a small garden facing the street and a much larger strip of land at the back, about 100 feet long, (30.5 metres). All the cottages had their own private earth closets at the end of the gardens; a luxury that many Sudburians did not enjoy during this period. (Some people, such as the families living on the Mount in North Street, were still using communal privies in the 1950’s.) However, the exhausting task of bringing water into the houses continued as well as the problem as to to what to do with any waste water from cooking, cleaning etc. Unlike older properties in the crowded courts and alleys in the centre of Sudbury, Delhi Terrace residents did not have to walk 300 or 400 yards to the nearest pump or well as two wells were dug specifically for the new houses. As for the problem of waste water, five gully holes were provided at the back of the houses which ran into the barrel drain under the street. All the residents had to do was take their slops to one of these gullies and pour it down the hole.

Simple! Except that human nature and poor maintenance combined to make Delhi Terrace notorious for diseases caused by water pollution. This had not been Joshua Garnham’s intention at all when the houses were first built as he spent much of his life helping the disadvantaged people of the Town. He could not have foreseen that Delhi Terrace residents would have thrown all sorts of solid matter into the gullies – potato parings; cinder dust and sewage matter if they were unable, (or too lazy), to walk to the earth closets. The drains under the two pumps were also abused in the same way.

Writing in the autumn of 1869, Dr. Lynch vividly described the outbreak of typhus fever at Delhi Terrace which had claimed the lives of two of the Parish children. In June, one of the drains was opened for the purpose of being cleaned out and the contents remained exposed on the ground for several days. The weather was hot and the smell was offensive. Some of the privies were in an appalling condition and no one could remember when they were last emptied. One of the wells was contaminated by heavy rainfall at the beginning of the summer and the water was thick and dirty and, even after boiling, retained a scum.

When fever broke out, Dr. Lynch noted that “the liquid excreta from the patient were thrown down the imperfect drains and allowed to poison the water in the usual way.” The disease soon spread until half the houses in Delhi Terrace – and even some of the houses across the road which used the same two wells – contained people who were ill with typhoid fever. Sixty people developed the illness. Some households were lucky as only two or three people were mildly affected but in others, such as the Parish household, people became seriously ill.

Six year old Alfred became ill in July 1869 and died after a fortnight’s illness. The day after his funeral on August 4th, his brother Arthur, aged eleven, started to feel unwell. He was ill for a month and was eventually admitted to the hospital, St. Leonard’s, where he gradually began to improve. Next to fall ill was the children’s mother, Eliza; she remained very ill for about two months. During her illness, sixteen year old Henry became ill and died within ten days. He was buried, close to his brother Alfred, in Sudbury Cemetery on October 1st. Meanwhile, William was unable to work and had to care for his sick family until the relieving officer supplied a nurse. The family also included another child, Edward, aged two.

St. Leonard’s Hospital, Newton Road, Sudbury

1869 was not a year of epidemics in Sudbury but typhoid fever was slow to disappear from Wigan End. In 1863, for example, the year of great sickness, 250 people died from various infectious diseases. Other years, including 1869, were less dangerous for the population of Sudbury. Dr. Lynch – and many other well-intentioned Sudburians – continued to try to educate people about the dangers of polluted drinking water and the need for a Public Water Works. Something that particularly upset him was not just the accumulation of 125 deaths from typhoid fever alone since 1851 but the fact that these deaths were taking place in the privacy of people’s homes with few knowing of their fate except the parish doctor, the relieving officer and their immediate neighbours.

He could not understand why the Town Council was so obsessed with widening roads but was failing to improve the drainage and water supply. The turning from Cross Street into Church Street known as Bull Corner, for example, was said to be the most dangerous part of the Town and there was a plan to make it safer. Dr. Lynch could not recall any fatal accident to either foot passengers of drivers at the Bull Corner since the time he had moved to Sudbury in 1851. He also suggested that if it had been a time-honoured custom to publicly poison six inhabitants on the Market Hill each year by order of the Town Council, there would have been a strong desire to abolish such a barbaric a practice at any expense by now.

The Bull Corner, Church Street, Sudbury,1897 – much improved since the 1860’s
Fred Parish in 1905

The Parish family lived in Delhi Terrace for a few more years. Arthur, after his recovery from typhoid fever, became a labourer at a local brick works. In 1872, Fred entered the service of the Great Eastern Railway at Sudbury. A few years later he was sent to Chappel near Marks Tey as signalman and porter for two years; then for ten years he acted as section signalman at Witham, after which he was sent to Chelmsford, but was soon sent back to Witham on being promoted to signalman. William and Eliza continued to work as silk weavers but, by 1881, had moved to Bethnal Green with two of their children and a niece. It was only the youngest member of the family, Edward, who returned to Sudbury to take up the Freedom on August 3rd, 1892. This was to be the last time that the name ‘Parish’ was recorded on the Freemen’s Roll.